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No to Abstinence - Yes to Better Education

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Nadine Dorries' various political crusades are widely received with disgust and criticism not only by her political polar opposites in the press but also on the internet where she is regularly reviled for her political stances.

Some of this criticism is based on seemingly glaring inaccuracies in the 'facts' upon which Dorries relies in order to formulate her theories, most is simply based on the opposing political and social views of her commentators, although if the truth be told it often seems that Dorries has few fans even in her own party.

Nonetheless the seeds of her latest campaign were successfully planted last May, when she proposed a private members bill that girls (and only girls) between 13 and 16 should receive extra sex education teaching them to practice abstinence.

Her theory appears to be that the onus is upon girls to say no to the lustful advances of boys who cannot possibly abstain when it comes to sex. She further claims that education in abstinence will reduce the number of abuse cases. Last year her bill received 67 votes to 61, a narrow victory but a victory nonetheless. Her proposed bill is due for another reading on 20 January 2012 which has caused a flurry of activity from her opponents planning protest marches and more in staunch opposition.

The proposition that educating girls in abstinence will reduce abuse is ridiculous. Abuse is where the victim (and following Ms Dorries reasoning the girl(s) she wishes to educate in abstinence) has no choice in what they are being subjected to.

Abstinence in this horrific situation is neither a choice nor relevant to the victim. Her proposals in this regard are not only completely preposterous but also incredibly insulting to the victims.

The issue of abstinence only applies in getting the abusers to abstain from going ahead with what many claim post the event as their seemingly incontrollable desires for sexual activity, irrespective of the age or wishes of the object of their desire.

However it cannot be denied that Miss Dorries has a point. SRE (Sex Relationship Education) does not appear to be working in schools in the UK. Teenage pregnancy rates are consistently amongst the highest in Europe and the UK also has very high rates of STIs, with the highest STI rates in the under-25 age group. Of even more concern is that of all 16-19 year olds diagnosed with an STI approximately 24% will be re-infected within the year. Lessons are clearly not being learnt, in more ways than one.

In fact it doesn't seem unfair to say that neither SRE nor PSHE in its current format is working sufficiently well enough to prevent not only unwanted pregnancies and STI's amongst teenagers, but also to help them deal properly with the personal, social and emotional issues that result in many of our youth being caught up in gang culture, crime and violence. A cycle which for some tragically ends in an untimely demise and for others results in a life sentence of sorts, be that forever having the shadow of a misspent youth tainting their lives or being caught in a cycle of social and financial deprivation that proves the legacy for their future generations.

Whilst I am not based in the education sector I spent a year volunteering at a primary school in north west London where the students were predominantly from a low socio-economic background. I helped teach a course run by a charity called Spirituality For Kids to two mixed sex classes of seven year olds and in doing so was amazed to witness firsthand how at such a tender age they not only grasped the principles regarding the relationship between their emotions, their interaction with others and their wellbeing but also actually learnt to apply this emotional awareness and intelligence successfully to the challenges that they faced in their own lives.

Having discussed the course and its impact upon the children (not just in the year I helped teach but in many previous years of students) at length with their full time teachers I was under no illusion that they felt the current traditional curriculum lacked in sufficient or correct education in these areas and that this had a negative impact upon the children's personal, social and emotional development which in some cases extended to their health and general well-being. Whilst it is wonderful that charities such as SFK and Place2Be exist and have a beneficial impact in schools one must ask why these charities have to fill the gap in current PSHE and SRE curriculums.

Nadine Dorries' proposals have been lambasted as being out of touch, based on religiosity and an attempt to impose Christian moral values on others as well as being sexist by targeting girls exclusively.

Perhaps some of this is true and certainly some of her reasoning behind the bill is questionable if we are being polite, ludicrous if we are being blunt. But I can't help but think that whilst not hitting the nail on the head, she has touched a nerve that we as a society need to acknowledge and the government and educational authorities need to address.

It may be that for many youngsters abstinence either on certain occasions is the correct choice.

But the point is that almost what is more important than saying no is the decision making process that goes into the choice to say no. This is not really about saying no sex but is about saying no to the current curriculum on education on areas that are as important to the well-being of our young people as other core subjects.

SRE and PSHE as they currently stand are failing our youngsters. And by failing our youngsters they are failing our society. Until this is fully addressed and we move beyond the current divisiveness of different think tanks, political and religious groups and their inability to see beyond their different agendas, and can instead unite on the emotional understanding and values that we owe to our youngsters to instill (and I feel ultimately most decent human beings whatever their religious/atheist/political backgrounds can agree on) then I fear that the continuing struggles of our youth ranging from a lack of control in their sexual encounters to lack of control in many other areas of their lives, (and the ensuing negative consequences) will continue. In this current climate of economic gloom and doom and social unrest this is a recipe for disaster for all of our futures.

Say no to Dorries' bill, but don't forget to say YES to better personal, social, health, emotional, sexual and relationship education.

Ambi Sitham is a lawyer, life coach and the author of The Laws of Love (represented by Sarah Williams at Ed Victor Agency).

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